Working In The UK - Keep Within The Law

For some time it has been a criminal offence to employ someone who is working illegally in this country. The question for employers is "How do I know whether someone has the right to work here or not?" The rules on who can work in the UK are complex and you may, unknowingly and unintentionally, end up employing an illegal worker. If that happens, you have a defence against conviction if you have carried out basic document checks; otherwise you could face a fine of up to £5000 per offence. In this article we summarise the changes to this area of law that were introduced this year by the Immigration (Restriction on Employment) Order.

How did the law change?
The new Regulations changed the list of documents that an employee can produce to prove that they have the right to work in the UK; there is also a new requirement for you to satisfy yourself that the documentation they provide relates to the employee in question and has not been 'borrowed' from someone else. The number of different documents an employee needs to provide depends on the nature of the document. The Regulations set out two lists:

List I
Only one document from this list is needed, and it includes documents such as a British or European Economic Area (EEA) passport or national identity card;

List 2
A combination of two documents from this list is needed, eg: a P45 (or other document giving a permanent National Insurance number), plus a UK birth certificate; or a work permit plus a passport giving the right of stay in the UK. (Remember that 10 new countries joined the EEA on 1st May 2004. All citizens of these countries can work in the UK but some must register with the Home Office first).

Recruitment Practices
You must make sure that your recruitment practices do not discriminate against individuals on racial grounds when you ask for these documents; don't make the mistake of asking for them only from people who look or sound foreign. Guidance from the Home Office suggests that, before they start working for you, you should:

  1. Ask all new employees to prove that they can work in the UK (many employers now ask for a passport, birth certificate, etc.
  2. Satisfy yourself that the documents rightfully belong to the new employee and that they allow them to do the type of work you're offering; checks should include photographs, expiry dates, etc;
  3. Make a copy of every document and keep it in their personal file. If you've carried out these checks, and found that the new employee is not permitted to work in this country, you're entitled to refuse them employment.

For more details on the Regulations contact the Employers' Helpline on 0845 010 6677 or visit